NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — The statewide mask mandate in Indiana ended on Tuesday, leaving the decision of whether to require masks up to individual counties and businesses.
This move comes as warmer weather is approaching, air travel is increasing, and people are beginning to attend events again. The big question is: should you mask up even if the county or place you’re traveling to doesn’t require it?
Thomas Duszynski, director of epidemiology education at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI said, “I think it’s really important to understand the mandate versus an advisory and really, not much should change.”
Duszynski said, “The mandate really wasn’t enforced very well in the state of Indiana. We really just didn’t have capacity to do that, so the advisory is slightly less than the mandate.”
With this, he said moving from a mandate to an advisory puts the responsibility of making the choice to wear a mask on the individual themselves.
Duszynski explained, “In these situations I think the first thing people need to do is have a personal risk assessment. ‘How am I going to infected? Am I vaccinated? Do I have co-morbid conditions that put me at greater risk?'”
Duszynski said people need to hold up their end of social responsibility and the easiest way to do so is to continue wearing a mask until science shows whether being vaccinated still allows a person to transmit the virus or not.
“We are not out of the pandemic yet, we are still seeing a rise in cases not only in Indiana but in many states across the U.S.,” he said.
For those in the wedding industry expecting to see a major boost this summer after the pandemic forced cancellations, resulted in capacity restrictions, and postponements last year — this is a decision that they will need to weigh if they are in a county under an advisory, not a mandate.
One of the counties that partially lifted its mandate is Hamilton County. People will be required to wear their masks in county buildings through the end of April, but local business owners have the right to choose whether people wear masks or not in their establishments.
At Mustard Seed Gardens in Noblesville, co-owner Mark Skipper said this is a conversation their staff has had extensively ahead of a busy wedding season they are anticipating.
“Our best year was 78 weddings. We’re in excess of 100 this year,” said Skipper.
“As staff, we’ve had those meetings, we’ve had those planning discussions and we will wear the masks and we will make sure we’re being safe,” said Skipper.
He said because his staff handles food and beverages, they will continue wearing a mask until they hear otherwise with more specific guidelines from Hamilton County. “You don’t want it to go backwards and that’s what our focus is also,” said Skipper.
“The way that we look at it is we want to follow the guidelines and until those are really clear, we’re gonna wear the masks.”
When it comes to whether wedding parties and their guests will need to mask up, he said that choice will be left up to the couples celebrating their weddings.
He said, “What we’ve experienced thus far is a lot of our clients don’t want to wear a mask. Imagine a bride on her special day. The last thing she wants, or even the family, is masks in photos.”
“When we did have to enforce the mandates, we did get push back. We had clients that said I don’t care what it is, we’re not gonna wear masks. We encouraged it and actually had the proper amount of communication and signage,” said Skipper.
He said unless they are given direction otherwise, they will allow the clients to choose whether or not they require their guests to wear masks. The venue will continue to keep their signs posted and encourage practicing social distancing, along with staff mask-wearing.
Last year, Skipper said requirements and mandates were changing what seemed like daily, so their staff learned to roll with the punches and adapt as things evolved.
“The biggest headache or the biggest hurdle we had as a venue for weddings and all kinds of events was the cap on the attendance, on the guest count,” he said. Because of the restrictions, Skipper said many people made the choice to move their wedding to 2021 or even later.
As Mustard Seed Gardens prepares to once again open its doors to couples and their guests, they are waiting on Hamilton County to release more clear guidelines, but said right now, it appears they can be at full capacity and still be in compliance.
“We want to first follow the guidelines, state county and make sure that we’re in compliance and secondly, we want to make sure that everyone feels safe,” shared Skipper.
With their first wedding of the season quickly approaching, Skipper said they look forward to helping create magic for each couple’s special day.
Skipper said their venue is ready for the rush and excited to welcome back their guests, many who have had to put their dream day off for some time due to the pandemic.
“Every year we get to the end of the season and we kind of take a deep breath, I think this year we’ll take a deeper breath. But we’re excited, we’re ready for it.”
He said the venue will continue to follow whatever guidelines are put in place by the county and state and adapt in the event anything changes.
Duszynski said until herd immunity is reached, which is quite a way away according to experts’ definition of herd immunity being significantly higher than the current number in Indiana, people should wear their masks when out in public.